July 29, 2019

British media have activated at least three tools to handle false claims made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson: It has called for citizen’s support, reached out for White House reporters and also published open statements directed at the politician — all to stop any kind of official mis/disinformation. 

Channel 4 openly invited citizens to report dubious statements heard at 10 Downing Street. “Help us fact-check the new Prime Minister. Tweet to @FactCheck if you spot questionable claims or broken promises”, said the TV channel on its website and social media accounts. 

Since July 24, Johnson’s first day as PM, reporters have been following his speeches and finding as many falsehoods as they did when the famous Brexit-leader was London’s mayor.

The Independent went oversees for advice and published a letter from the White House reporter Andrew Feinberg, who has spent almost three years covering Donald Trump. The letter is addressed “Dear Downing Street Press” and contains “some suggestions.” 

“Fact check every claim; call lies what they are”, wrote Feinberg, before stressing a point of view widely shared by the fact-checking community.

“I know the UK has a long tradition of partisan newspapering, but the truth has nothing to do with partisanship. Facts are facts, words have meaning, and people can’t make informed decisions about their own government if they’re not being informed properly. Many journalists on my side of the pond feel a need to constantly present ‘both sides’ of an issue, because we’ve been bullied for decades into confusing objectivity and balance. But sometimes there aren’t two sides to an issue. Sometimes there is only what is true and what is false”.

Full Fact, the International Fact-Checking Network’s signatory in the UK, decided to talk straight to the Prime Minister and published a statement on its website last Tuesday. It demanded accuracy. 

“As prime minister, we hope that Mr. Johnson will commit to the highest standards of accuracy and honesty. We hope he’ll follow the three principles we believe all public figures should uphold: get your facts straight, back up what you say with evidence, and correct your mistakes.”

And Full Fact’s team added a promise:

“Whatever happens, we’ll continue to scrutinize his words in the same way we have for the past nine years—fairly, impartially, and with the belief that the public deserves clear and trustworthy information from our leaders.”

In July 2010, Johnson publicly celebrated what he thought was one of his biggest achievements as London’s mayor. “We’ve taken 9,500 knives off the streets.” Full Fact, however, pointed out that the statement lacked some important context. The crackdown on knife crime had begun under the previous mayor, Ken Livingstone. Since then, Johnson’s claims have been scrutinized more than 20 times. The most recent one came during his first speech as UK’s Prime Minister. It’s proof that it won’t be easy for Johnson to push exaggerated or false information without accountability from the media.

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Cristina Tardáguila is the International Fact-Checking Network’s Associate Director. She was born in May 1980, in Brazil, and has lived in Rio de Janeiro for…
Cristina Tardáguila

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